Canada's PM names Quebec litigator to Supreme Court

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Quebec lawyer Suzanne Côté, a commercial litigation specialist, to the country’s highest court on Thursday.

Côté is the seventh judge on the Supreme Court appointed by Harper, a Conservative. There are nine seats on the court.

Côté, who was called to the Quebec bar in 1981, is a partner at Osler, Hoskins & Harcourt LLP and ran its Montreal litigation group. She is the first woman to be appointed to the top court directly from private practice. Most appointees are lower court judges, and their previous rulings give the government some sense of how they might decide cases at the Supreme Court.

David Schneiderman, a law professor at the University of Toronto, praised the decision to appoint a practicing lawyer.

In general, Schneiderman said, Harper has sought to appoint more conservative judges to the top court. But his government has nonetheless lost some key cases.

“Has it worked, in the sense of giving him results that he wants? No,” he said. “Has it worked maybe in lending the court a more conservative cast more generally? Perhaps.”

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank, named the Supreme Court its “policymaker of the year” on Thursday, and said the federal government has an “abysmal record” on important cases before its bench.

The think tank said there is no evidence Harper’s appointments are “carving out their own ideological space”.

In April, the court ruled that Parliament cannot enact major reforms to the Senate without securing agreement from Canada’s provinces, effectively blocking Harper’s plans to introduce elections to the Senate and term limits for senators.

Last October, it struck down Canada’s restrictions on adult prostitution as unconstitutional, over the government’s objections. Both decisions were unanimous.

Côté’s appointment is effective Dec. 1. She will replace Louis LeBel, who turns 75 on Sunday. Supreme Court judges must retire at 75.

With her appointment, four of the Supreme Court’s nine judges will be women, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Nick Zieminski; and Peter Galloway